So you’re looking for a mentor but you still have questions about the mentor you need: Does your mentor need to be twice or three times more successful than you? Or could your mentor be just successful enough to show you the ropes, yet new enough to remember the hardships and the bumpy experiences?
And while you’re thinking about these questions, here’s another thought: should that successful mentor be older than you, or could that mentor be younger?
It might make more sense to have a highly successful mentor who is many years your senior. They will have many stories to teach you about how to be successful in life or business. But what if you could have a mentor who is very successful but much younger than you?
Would the “reverse” age difference be intimidating? It could bring back bad memories of what it was like to be upstaged by a younger sibling! To avoid that, having an older mentor could be the better choice.
Older entrepreneurs have the advantage for business success. They have deeper pockets to get themselves through financial hard times (and unwise business decisions) and they may have the business or industry-specific expertise to get them to success from former careers.
So, if you were to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur, it seems best to have a mentor who is older than you. This mentor will have more experience and will be able to guide you through the hard times and be more understanding of what you will be going through.
Interestingly, in my own experience, my early business mentors were younger than me. (Not that I’m old — they happened to be young.) And from where I was standing at the time, they were more successful. Let me explain.
To me, it’s not age that matters, but experience. Obviously, I want a mentor who has demonstrated success so that I can follow in his or her footsteps.
I want to learn what he found useful, or what she found difficult so I’ll know how to handle the situation when I get there. I want to learn about his failures or moments that she wishes she could do over again and how, so that I won’t make the same mistakes.
And gradually over time, I also learned that having a mentor who has similar life experiences is equally as important as a mentor with success in business. Here I can’t wait to share three reasons why having a mentor with similar life experiences is more important than your mentor’s age.
1. Your Mentor Will Understand Your Goals and Relate to You More
One of my younger mentors, who I will call Jim, was always optimistic. When I failed to meet one of my goals for the year, he would say, “It takes time.” Those words were devastating to my ears.
He was trying to encourage me, and teach me that patience would get me where I wanted. I had been drawn to him because of his professional success at a young age in the same type of business as me. He also had experience as a business mentor, and took me under his wing. However, he didn’t understand my frustrations.
He wasn’t caving under the pressure of paying mortgage bills or becoming financially stable enough to have kids. Instead, he was in absolutely no hurry to move out from home, get married, or have kids. So his perception of time was different than mine. He saw me as impatient for success and always rushing at my goals.
In contrast, another of my mentors, who I will call Fred, was only a few years older than Jim, but he was married with kids. When he shared his story of his road to success, I felt he understood me a lot better.
If he failed in business, he had to worry about debts the same way I did because he also didn’t live at home. He didn’t have parents to support him. He also felt the pressure of other people depending on him.
For these reasons, I could relate to Fred better because if he could succeed while shouldering those responsibilities, then I could too.
2. Your Will See Your Mentor as Your Equal
These days, social media influences our perceptions. I’ve had younger mentors, some married, some single. One was incredibly younger than me. I’ve also had older mentors, most of them married. All of them projected a professional image on social media at all times. (Yes, I followed them.)
Read more: Why Your Brand and Image Matters
One of my business mentors is quite significantly younger than me, but he had more business savvy so he was teaching me the ropes. When we first met, he was dressed in business casual, and the second time he was wearing a suit. His demeanor was so professional that I liked him as a mentor immediately. (First impressions count.)
Over time however, I saw his posts on social media and discovered he was someone who acted younger than his age. He dressed younger and enjoyed activities that younger people liked. Although he was mature and ambitious, I started to see him as a younger brother.
It destroyed some of my respect for him as my mentor as well because it seemed we were not on the same wavelength in our life experiences.
Social media doesn’t always portray a person’s life realistically, but it sure can shape how you perceive someone. Another of my mentors is about my age. She doesn’t post often on social media, but when she does, it’s professional.
She posts about events she is hosting, advice for helping people, and words to bring positive vibes to your day. She has also posted photos of her trips, but those photos are well chosen.
They show off her casual, relaxed side. They also don’t shatter my image of her as a woman who I can rely on as a mentor and a friend. The places she visited were places I could go to. The activities she portrayed herself doing were activities I myself could participate in.
3. You and Your Mentor Can Switch Roles
I have read that younger people mentoring older people can be a good match at the workplace. Younger people can teach older workers about new methods of doing things as well as new technology. But I still believe that shared life experiences and relatability is important between mentor and mentee.
One of my mentors truly inspired me with his lifestory. He had to overcome many obstacles to become successful in business. I admired his courage and believed that if I persevered like he had, I could reach my business goals as well.
Some time after he became my mentor, I had the chance to help him with some writing projects. He had never completed projects like these before, so it was a rare chance to switch roles as I become the expert.
A mentor and mentee relationship isn’t set in stone. Whether you are younger or older, you have a talent, skill, or experience that you can share with your mentor or mentee. The relationship isn’t always one directional.
Should you choose a mentor who is older or younger than you? I think most people would say, choose someone who is older. They have more experience, and when it comes to business, they can ride out financial waves better over time.
My own experience is that older mentors can be more relatable because of their life experiences. You may have more in common with them.
I’ve also had mentors who are younger. They have professional knowledge that I crave to learn, but the difference in life experience can mean it’s harder to relate to them.
Only you can decide if an older or younger mentor is the best fit for you.
photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio
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